Letter from the Holy Office under Pope Pius IX condemning false attempts to procure Christian Unity

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“Apostolicae Sedi Nuntiatum”

September 16, 1864


A Letter of the Supreme Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition to all the English Bishops

It has been notified to the Apostolic See that some Catholics and even ecclesiastics have given their names to a Society established in London in the year 1857, ‘for promoting’ (as it is called) ‘the unity of Christendom;’ and that several articles have been published in the daily papers signed with the names of Catholics, in approval of this Society, or supposed to have been written by ecclesiastics in its favour. Now, the real character and aim of the Society are plain, not only from the articles in the journal called the ‘Union Review,’ but from the very prospectus in which persons are invited to join it, and are enrolled as members. Organised and conducted by Protestants, it has resulted from a view, put forth by it in express terms, that the three Christian communions, the Roman Catholic, the schismatic Greek, and the Anglican, though separated and divided one from another, have yet an equal claim to the title of Catholic. Hence, its doors are open to all men whencesoever — Catholics, schismatic Greeks, or Anglicans — but so that none shall moot the question of the several points of doctrine in which they differ, and each may follow undisturbed the opinions of his own religious profession. It appoints, moreover, prayers to be said by all its members, and Masses to be celebrated by priests, according to its particular intention; namely, that these three Christian communions, constituting, as by hypothesis they do, the Catholic Church collectively, may at some future time coalesce to the formation of one body.

The Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, to whose scrutiny the matter has been referred as usual, has judged, after mature consideration, that the faithful should be warned with all care against being led by heretics to join with them and with schismatics in entering this Association. The Most Eminent Fathers the Cardinals, placed with myself over the Sacred Inquisition, entertain, indeed, no doubt that the Bishops of those parts address themselves already with diligence, according to the charity and learning which distinguish them, to point out the evils which that Association diffuses, and to repel the dangers it is bringing on. Yet they would seem wanting to their office, did they not, in a matter of such moment, further enkindle the said Bishops’ pastoral zeal; this novelty being all the more perilous as it bears a semblance of religion, and of being much concerned for the unity of the Christian society.

The principle on which it rests is one that overthrows the divine constitution of the Church. For it is pervaded by the idea that the true Church of Jesus Christ consists partly of the Roman Church spread abroad and propagated throughout the world, partly of the Photian schism and the Anglican heresy, as having equally with the Roman Church, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. To take away the dissensions which distract these three Christian communions, not without grievous scandal and at the expense of truth and charity, it appoints prayers and sacrifices, to obtain from God the grace of unity. Nothing indeed should be dearer to a Catholic than the eradicating of schisms and dissensions among Christians, and to see all Christians ‘solicitous to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Eph. iv.). To that end, the Catholic Church offers prayers to Almighty God, and urges the faithful in Christ to pray, that all who have left the Holy Roman Church, out of which is no salvation, may abjure their errors and be brought to the true faith, and the peace of that Church; nay, that all men may, by God’s merciful aid, attain to a knowledge of the truth. But that the faithful in Christ, and that ecclesiastics, should pray for Christian unity under the direction of heretics, and, worse still, according to an intention stained and infected by heresy in a high degree, can no way be tolerated.

The true Church of Jesus Christ is constituted and recognised as such by those four ‘notes,’ belief in which is asserted in the Creed, each note being so linked with the rest as to be incapable of separation. Hence, the Church Catholic, truly so called, must be luminous with all the high attributes of unity, sanctity, and apostolical succession. The Catholic Church therefore is One, in the manifest and perfect unity of all nations of the world; that is, the unity of which the supreme authority and more eminent principality of blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and his successors in the Roman See is the principle, the root, and indefectible origin. She is no other than that Church which, built on Peter alone, grows up into one body knit together and compacted in unity of faith and charity; which blessed Cyprian in his 45th Epistle heartily acknowledged, where he addresses Pope Cornelius: ‘that our colleagues may firmly approve and hold to thee and thy communion — that is, alike to the unity and charity of the Catholic Church.’ It was the assertion of this same truth that Pope Hormisdas required of the bishops who abjured the schism of Acacius, in the formula approved by the suffrage of all Christian antiquity, in which they ‘who agree not in all things with the Apostolic See’ are said to be ‘put forth from the communion of the Church Catholic.’ So far from its being possible that communions separate from the Roman See can be rightly called or reputed Catholic, their very separation and disagreement is the mark by which to know those communities and Christians that hold neither the true faith, nor the true doctrine of Christ, as Irenaeus (lib. iii. contra Haeres. c. 3) most clearly showed as early as the second century. Let the faithful, then, jealously beware of joining those societies to which they cannot unite themselves and yet keep their faith unimpaired; and listen to S. Augustine, who teaches that there can be neither truth nor piety where Christian unity and the charity of the Holy Spirit are absent.

A further reason why the faithful ought to keep themselves entirely apart from the London Society is this, that they who unite in it both favour indifferentism and introduce scandal. That Society, at least its founders and directors, assert that Photianism and Anglicanism are two forms of one true Christian religion, in which the same means of pleasing God are afforded as in the Catholic Church; and that the active dissensions in which these Christian communions exist, are short of any breach of the faith, inasmuch as their faith continues one and the same. Yet this is the very essence of that most baleful indifference in matters of religion, which is at this time especially spreading in secret with the greatest injury to souls. Hence no proof is needed that Catholics who join this Society are giving both to Catholics and non-Catholics an occasion of spiritual ruin: more especially because the Society, by holding out a vain expectation of those three communions, each in its integrity, and keeping each to its own persuasion, coalescing in one, leads the minds of non-Catholics away from conversion to the faith, and, by the journals it publishes, endeavours to prevent it.

The most anxious care, then, is to be exercised, that no Catholics may be deluded either by appearance of piety or by unsound opinions, to join or in any way favour the Society in question, or any similar one; that they may not be carried away, by a delusive yearning for such new-fangled Christian unity, into a fall from that perfect unity which by a wonderful gift of Divine grace stands on the firm foundation of Peter.

C. Card. Patrizi

Rome, this 16th day of September, 1864


Note: This translation has been taken from Appendix I in The Reunion of Christendom by Cardinal Henry Edward Manning (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1866), pp. 79-84. All italics are given in the original. A paragraph break has been added to facilitate reading.